ID2EVASW – Rally at Melbourne State Library

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Melbourne begins in St Kilda – ID2EVASW – Rally in St Kilda

Later across town, at a rally organised by individual sex workers, Ryan is speaking again alongside sex workers Nada and myself.  I have received a call indicating media will be attending and we find and introduce ourselves to Simon Lauder from the ABC and arrange for him to wait until after the speeches to talk to people, explaining that it is preferred that sex workers who want to talk approach him rather than him going up to those that who may not wish to be approached.

Central points of the speeches that will soon become relevant in terms of our media presense are:
a) that non-sex workers trying to speak on behalf of sex workers constitute a form of violence
b) advocating a regulatory model that harms sex workers is also a form of violence
c) abolitionists or proponents of the Nordic or Swedish Model are engaging in violence against sex workers (as the Nordic or Swedish Model has been shown to harm sex workers)

Immediately after the speeches, a sex worker comes up to me to say “I think two members of Project Respect are talking to the ABC guy”. 

Note – ‘Project Respect’ referred to colloquially as ‘Project disRespect’ by many sex workers is a known abolitionist group that seeks to ‘save’ sex workers by eliminating our right to work.  I go to investigate…  I discover that a man and a woman saying they are Australians – who just happen to have lived in Sweden, who just happen to be back in Australia, who just happen to love the Swedish Model, who just happen to be walking past when our rally was on, who thought they would come and talk to the ABC guy…  Yeah right.

What they don’t realise is that the ABC is still recording during our ‘discussion’ (I don’t realise at the time either).  What happens next shows proponents of the Swedish model for what they are – people who are actually deeply uncaring, even hostile as to the voices and human rights of sex workers:

Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to the streets

But the main point of all this, is that it is sex workers voices – that need to be heard, so in honouring that I have sought permission and reproduce here the full text of all three speeches from the Melbourne State Library – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Rally:

Speaker 1 – Ryan

Speaker 2 – Jane

Speaker 3 – Nada

Link to the speeches as recorded on Vimeo, due to fading light the videographer (third speaker Nada) has edited herself out, but we’re trying to convince her to reverse this decision…:

Note:

When the ABC picks this up nationally (the above link ‘Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to the streets’ is ABC 774) the transcript of the conversation between myself and the alleged Project disRespect member will be edited to remove the section where they start using whorephobic language, but not in the sound file.  It does however change the tone of the story if you don’t listen to the sound file.  ie in one story you get the context that the guy was a rude whorephobic dick, in the other you don’t.

Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to Melbourne’s streets

ID2EVASW – Nada’s Speech

SPEAKER 3 – NADA (reproduced with permission)/State Library – Melbourne

My name is Nada, and I am speaking as an  individual migrant sex worker.

When speaking about violence against sex workers, what comes to mind as a person who has been in the industry nearly 20 years is not trafficking or even labour violations and bad clients.

The trauma that I have personally experienced as a sex worker is police violence. This seem to ring true for many migrant workers across the globe. Many migrant workers have difficulties in staying within the legal sector of the industry especially in Victoria as the draconian sex work laws force women to register with the government – something most sex workers, let alone migrants are willing to do as this information can be easily be used against us. In migrant worker’s case, it could lead to arbitrary refusals of visas. When a sex worker is in the illegal sector of the industry, it makes the workers more vulnerable to violence as they are seen as easy targets to predators assuming that the person will be less likely to go to the authorities.

As a migrant sex worker, I also can not escape the racism of anti-trafficking movement such as the time when I attended Coalition Against Women In Trafficking when mostly well to do white people talked about Asian women as if we are all almost sex slaves that needs rescuing by westerners. This propaganda spread by those who wants to try to shut town the industry is in complete contrast to the opinion of sex work communities around the world reporting violent raids that are happening in brothels in the name of anti- trafficking and calling it “rescuing of sex slaves”. The people who are spreading propaganda using submissive Asian women stereotypes are usually radical feminists whose ideology states that any penetrative sex is violence against women and casts ALL SEX WORK as violence against women-  OR they are Christian Fundamentalists. Either way , these people who believe Asian women are nothing but victims and unable to help themselves without the aid of Westerners should not have ANYTHING to do with us and have no right to talk about us. Further, people who believe sex is inherently violent and has ideological issues with sex work should stay far far away from sex workers or anything to do with sex and certainly should NOT have the right to speak on behalf of sex workers. It is a fact that efforts towards abolition of sex work is proven to be in direct conflict with preserving the human rights and the safety of sex workers irregardless of why they may be in the industry

However, in Victoria, these radical feminists speaks on behalf of sex workers as if they are the authority on sex work and gets all the media attention and funding, they are professors teaching young people at Universities when in reality they are nothing but classist white academics theorizing about other people they have already judged as needing their help. They consistently silence peer based sex work organizations made only of workers which are inclusive of different types of sex workers, gender identities, ethnicities, and drug use – something these xenophobic, racist academics such as Sheila Jeffreys and her western neo-colonialist radical feminists can learn from.

Not only do these people who wish to abolish sex work such as the radical feminists get more air time than the sex workers, in Victoria, we have no funded peer based organisation. Instead, Victoria ignores our human rights by posing sex workers only as a public sexual health issue even though research shows that in decriminalised and legal environment, sex workers are proven to have less STI’s then the general population. The only funded sex work related organisation is a non-peer organisation that is called Resourcing Health and Education in the Sex Industry that claims to improve health of sex workers as if they are the ones to make changes within the industry. It is only the efforts of sex workers themselves that is keeping the industry’s low STI status despite the laws in Victoria of mandatory testing which goes against the recommendations by health organizations.   We also have another funded organisation that deals with sex workers  – it works like a rehabilitation centre for sex workers in the guise of saving trafficking victims ran by the radical feminists and consistently fuels racist false information about the sex industry to the press and they are called Project Respect. All the while ignoring the actual support we need for work safety.

This year we lost two women in Victoria in violent murder that could possibly have been deterred if there were better laws. One was a sex worker, another was not. Both their lives were equally valuable . Tom Meagher said on the day of sentencing of his wife’s murderer, “ I am aware his previous victims in previous cases before Jill were sex workers, and I’ll never be convinced that doesn’t have something to do with the lenience of his earlier sentence”

When sex work is seen as inherently violent as the radical feminists suggests, violence against sex workers are tolerated due to this very stigma. No assault or violence should be tolerated and no sex workers should experience this. We MUST end violence against sex workers NOW.

Tracy Connelly was murdered this year. I wonder if street based sex work were not illegal and police crack downs did not happen in Victoria, that it might have had positive impact on her life.

What we want is full decriminalisation of the industry. It is a model that all peer based sex work organisation recommends.  If you would like to directly do something for sex workers please fund a peer based sex work organisation rather than people that claims to speak on our behalf.

ID2EVASW – Jane’s Speech

SPEAKER 2 – JANE/Rally at State Library – Melbourne

I am Jane Green, I am a sex worker.
I am a survivor of both sexual assault and physical violence.
I am speaking today as an individual sex worker, not as the representative of any organisation.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.
International day to end violence against sex workers can often seem to centre around either:
– talking about the violence sex workers can face, or
– talking about the fact that we don’t always or actually face as much violence as “people might think…”

TALKING ABOUT IT

Let me say this.
I should no more be pressured to talk about the violence I have faced in my work,

than to not talk about it.
I do not want to perform the details of past rapes, to get you to pay attention to my human rights.
I should not have to.

I am human, therefore I should get human rights, which as a sex worker I am denied.
I engage in labour, therefore I should get labour rights, which as a sex worker I am denied.
I should not have to make a case.

(No one should)

I should not have to win your sympathy.
And I should not have to act out a one person play of my past trauma to get it.
But neither should I be prevented from discussing violence I have faced because I feel I can only win my rights by presenting a perfect ‘happy hooker’ facade.

‘VIOLENCE’

The violence we face as sex workers is not only what it is commonly perceived to be,

by the public, or as portrayed in the media.

Beyond sexual and physical violence – we are subject to:
State violence, laws that fail to defend our human rights, or extend to us labour rights in our work.
Police violence, both directly (as an instrument of the state in enforcing discriminatory laws, and actual harassment/violence), and in failing to take seriously crimes committed against us.
Lack of ‘justice’ when crimes against us are not pursued in the criminal justice system, because we are seen as “less sympathetic” or “less likely to be believed” as victims.
Saviour groups, who claim sex workers require rescue rather than rights.
Abolitionists, conservative & radical feminist alike, believing their views on what I get to do with my body should have greater relevance than mine.
The media, who find a story in crimes again us, even in ‘rescue’ groups that want to save us, in abolitionists who want to speak on our behalf, but not when sex workers are speaking for themselves.

Well sex workers are able to speak for ourselves, & speaking for myself as a sex worker:
These are all forms of violence, but,
violence is NOT AN INHERENT PART OF OUR WORK
violence should never be an inherent part of any work.
In cases where rape & physical violence are committed against sex workers it should always be a sex workers personal choice what to do about that violence & sex workers should always have a range of choices:
– to access peer support
– to access outreach services
– to access police assistance
– to access & receive, justice
– to do so in privacy, be treated with respect & to have their CHOICE respected

Here in Victoria the very idea of accessing police when we are victims of violent crime is confronting enough,
But if sex workers are working outside of the licensing system, in the non compliant part of the industry,  then any rape or act of physical violence committed against them is doubly punitive,
Because if a sex worker in the non compliant part of the industry reaches out to the police for help:

The Victorian police will give no assurance to sex workers who are victims of rape or violent crime that they may not be charged, when reporting a crime of violence, simply because they are working outside of the regulatory system that already fails us.

No system that punishes you for reporting rape encourages you to do so.
This is simply another part of the licencing system, what is in effect – systemic violence – against sex workers by the Victorian government.

STOPPING VIOLENCE

So what can we actually do to stop violence against sex workers?

We must first understand that sex work does not exist in isolation. We live in a society that is permeated by rape culture. A culture that tolerates sexual violence and blames it’s victims.

Until and unless wider rape culture is addressed efforts to address such violence against sex workers cannot succeed.

Removing police as regulators so that that the people we go to for help are not the people who target and raid our industry, that would be a start.

Full DECRIMINALISATION of sex work, the understanding that sex workers require human rights and labour rights just as other citizens, that would be a start.

Working towards breaking down stigma and discrimination against sex workers, calling it out if and when it happens, that would be a start.

And when all of that is done?  What should the next step be?

ASK A SEX WORKER.

(because sex workers will be ready to tell you)

ID2EVASW – Ryan’s speech

SPEAKER 1 – RYAN (reproduced with permission)/Rally at State Library – Melbourne

I would like to acknowledge that this land we are meeting on today is Wurundjeri land, and I pay my respects to elders past and present. Sovereignty has never been ceded. I also want to acknowledge that sex workers in Australia live and work in a racist and colonised space that is impacted by illegitimate and unjust colonial laws including but definitely not limited to Victoria’s Sex Work Laws.

I am speaking as an individual sex worker. I work on the streets, privately and in brothels and I travel around for work mostly in between Sydney Adelaide and Melbourne.

Today I obviously don’t have enough time to talk about the many different ways the laws,  social stigma, victim blaming, whorephobia and many other systems of oppression in our society
work together to create and enable violence against sex workers.

I will just start by talking a little bit about the police.
When visiting Melbourne this year I’ve mostly been working in St Kilda where police have current operations targeting sex workers and our clients.

I don’t think its rocket science to realise having police posing as sex workers to entrap and arrest our clients negatively impacts our work and lives. Apparently it’s very hard to figure out for a lot of university lecturers and left wing activists in Melbourne though. I want to ask these people who support criminalising our clients, or at least don’t speak out against it a few questions.

How does making clients on edge and suspicious of us and not as able to negotiate for fear of arrest help us at work?

How does making our clients pay the money they were going to be spending on us to police officers instead help us… or anyone for that matter? The police don’t even provide any service except for fucking over most people in our society! How does running police operations that pressure us to not work in the areas that we have scouted out, feel secure working at and are within close proximity of our workmates or friends help us?

When there are also police officers (both undercover and in marked cars and uniforms) driving past harassing me and my workmates, to try and entrap us, or just cruising past watching, this makes it even harder again for us to negotiate with our clients. In this environment,  police evasion tactics for both me and my client have to become my priority and this often comes at the expense of me being able to use all of the skills I could be using to assess other non-police related risks and look after my OHS in the most optimal way at work.

One Police Inspector argued last year in the media ‘the reality is, these girls are getting into cars anyway.’ in some attempt to counter sex workers stating that the laws and policing practices in St Kilda are enabling violence against sex workers. These kinds of whorephobic arguments rely on perpetuating the idea that sex work is not skilled work – so it doesn’t matter for sex workers how many ways the police limit our ability to implement these safety tactics- according to them and our whorephobic society we were never expected to have any skills or be able to implement them anyway?

Maybe left wing activists and feminists think they are different to police and conservatives because they pretend to not blame us and instead say its just sex work or our clients that are THE problem. But people from across the political spectrum end up politically united in whorephobia when they frame sex work or parts of sex work as violence. When they see sex work as inherently creating violence they normalise this violence against us.

But Violence is not part of our job descriptions or something that is just part of sex work. It is just as shocking if it happens to a sex worker as it is if it happens to any other person at any time.

Violence is not just something that just comes hand in hand with sex being sold, it comes from whorephobia and often racism, ableism, classism, transphobia, anti- drug user sentiments, xenophobia, homophobia and/or misogyny. And it continues to happen when these sentiments are unchallenged in our society and are reflected in our legal systems. It happens when people think violence against sex workers is normal or just what happens when you are a sex worker.

Ending violence against sex workers is not going to be achieved by non sex workers appropriating our experiences of violence and sickeningly using them to further upper class feminist’s campaigns to make money for themselves harming -I mean ‘saving’ sex workers by campaigning for greater police and immigration powers over sex workers.

SHAME Project Respect, Kathleen Maltzahn SHAME every second author published by Spinifex press EXTRA SHAME Melinda Tankard Reist.

To campaign for the systems that cause violence against sex workers to be further expanded and strengthened in the name of ending violence against sex workers is just evil, especially when sex workers have been so vocal about this for so long.

Ending violence against sex workers will not happen by repeating over and over that this day isn’t political or claiming we can have a ‘peaceful’ gathering with the wider public and police today. Sex workers are not living in peace in Victoria!

To employ non sex workers to run outreach programs and to compile the experiences of sex workers under Victorias harmful laws and to NOT come out publically condemning the laws, policies and policing practices that are key in enabling violence against us IS TO BE COMPLICIT IN THIS VIOLENCE.

We already know that to create the best environment for ourselves at work we need full decriminalisation of sex work which would remove the police as regulators of our industry.  We need the wider community to recognise sex work is work, and that sex work is skilled work. We need our society and courts to recognise that being a sex worker does not in anyway mean you are not a good parent. We need our families and friends and communities to support sex workers.

Any non sex workers and non peer run sex worker services who actively undermine our rights or are complicit in the systems that create violence against us should be held accountable and stop making money off sex workers!  We need sex worker organisations like VIXEN in Victoria to be supported and listened to, for sex workers who are organising together to be supported and listened to.  We are obviously highly skilled in looking after ourselves and our peers at work. Its amazing the ways we do it in the face of such a hostile legal environment and whorephobic culture in Victoria. But we need change and we shouldn’t have to deal with so much of this bullshit! So we continue to fight to be respected and to push back against the systems and beliefs that are violent and enable violence against sex workers.

ID2EVASW – Rally in St Kilda

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers begins in Melbourne with fierce sex worker voices raised in St Kilda.  Workers highlight the lack of progress in bringing anyone to justice for sex worker Tracy Connelly’s death and the barriers to seeking police assistance when working outside the licensing system.

St Kilda sex workers Claire, Chrissy and Kat speak about their work, also the need for police and media attention to remain on the person or persons responsible for Tracy’s death.

Tracy Connelly

Tracy Connelly

After MP Clem Newtown-Brown tells the crowd that the government has “no easy answers”, the microphone is opened to sex workers, sex worker Ryan states “there is an answer – and it’s decriminalisation!”…

St Kilda sex worker calls out on Red Umbrella Day for more effort to find Tracey Connelly’s killer

It is clear from talking to sex workers gathered afterwards the perception is the media have moved on, and that there is no communication from police on the status of the investigation.  It took two weeks to get a statement for the purposes of the ID2EVASW Vixen Hour radio show on the 16th of Dec – via S.I.C.U. (Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit) – from the murder investigation, just to update that the case was “ongoing”.

Contrasted to the coverage of Jill Meaghers’ death and relatively swift capture of Adrian Bayley, St Kilda sex workers feel abandoned.  Why wouldn’t they?

There is another clear feeling from talking to sex workers after the rally.  That regardless of how anyone feels about their work – good, bad or indifferent – that it’s work.  If something bad happens a sex worker should be as able to call the police as anyone else.

Without a debate about how “likely” it is they’ll be charged for reporting it.

CROMWELL RE-VISITED

… this is a continuation of Mondays post ‘MANORISMS‘…

I am sitting in a sex workers bedroom not wanting to look at the stack of paperwork sitting on their bed.  Sex worker’s individual paperwork and medical information is here.  My own worker paperwork from Cromwell is here.

In an environment of prevailing whorephobia no-one should ever have this information.

Anyone, sex worker or not, would prefer that their personal and medical information is secured.

The worker whose bedroom I am sitting in, who is also an ex-Cromwell sex worker, found the records in an open cupboard in the Reception area of Cromwell, last Friday night at the ‘Manorisms’ exhibition opening.

Cromwell015x

I listen as they describe their experience & show me photos that they took of the ‘exhibition’ –

  • an art ‘installation’ including a handmade knife, pieces of human skin (molded in latex), reproduction human bones, ‘instruments’ laid out on a table as if ready to dissect – in one of the rooms I used to work in
  • a shower unit in one of the rooms, where our names have been painted – having been accessed from records left at Cromwell – my name is there, my best friend’s name is there, the worker who is showing me this points out their name
  • one of the beds left ‘untouched’ as if to memorialize Cromwell, essentially fetishising both sex work and sex workers
  • a sex worker’s belongings left sitting out, accessible to anyone, on top of the lockers in the locker room
  • telephone numbers left taped up behind reception, visible and accessible to anyone in the space

Cromwellxxx1Cromwellxxx2 Cromwell009x Cromwell010x Cromwell013x Cromwell012x

I go outside and smoke a cigarette, my hands are shaking.

We agree that all of the paperwork should be burned.

I call Consumer Affairs Victoria (as I did in June 2012 when Cromwell Manor closed). They advise they will look into it and get back to me.

I spend the day speaking to sex workers.  Online.  In person.  We talk about how angry we are.  We talk about our memories of Cromwell.  It is decided that a public statement is necessary, so I write a blog post.  A pretty restrained blog post given all of the above.  I call StrEAT & leave a message.

Then something happens.  StrEAT call back.

We have a tense conversation – I find myself stating several times “you must let go of the idea that what you have done is defensible, it is intrinsically whorephobic.  Admit that, admit you have made a mistake and we can begin to move on”  I say sex workers feel the exhibition must close, it is non negotiable.  I explain that any meeting is the first step in a process rather than simply a token gesture to make this go away.

We arrange to have a meeting.

We discuss all of the above issues.  We resolve some and make progress on others.  The names have been removed from the ‘installation’ listing sex workers names by the artist.

Cromwellxxx3

StrEAT has closed the exhibition and it will remain closed.

We agree that we will need to meet again.

At the end of the meeting I thank StrEAT.

Why would an angry sex worker thank the organisation that committed a whorephobic act against their community?

Because they did two things that are necessary for progress when an individual or organisation has committed an act of whorephobia:

  • they LISTENED to sex workers
  • they acknowledged they had made a MISTAKE

These are not easy things to do.

People should listen to marginalised communities.  But they generally don’t.  StrEAT did.

It’s not easy to admit when you made a mistake.  StrEAT did.

StrEAT spent time working through the concepts with sex workers and spent time listening to our stories.

Am I still angry?  Hell yes.

There are still sex workers records that need to be handed back.  We have informed StrEAT that these need to be handed to Vixen (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), so that they are under sex worker control.  Any sex workers that want to access their records should be able to do so (& do so via a peer organisation) and remaining records should be destroyed – by sex workers.

There is still the issue of the breach of privacy, for which there is now a RMIT ethics complaint in progress.

There is the matter of what will happen with the current site & the ‘artworks’, even though it is not re-opening as an Art Gallery prior to re-development.

There is much yet to discuss, but importantly – sex workers are part of the discussion.

Where sex work is the topic – sex workers should ALWAYS be part of the discussion.

To borrow a phrase from NSW sex worker organisation, NAUWU (who hopefully won’t mind):

NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US!

MANORISMS

A sex worker friend called me on Friday afternoon – have you heard about Cromwell?

Instantly he has my attention.  Have I heard what?  What could have happened?  Last I heard the building was for sale?

I know the building was for sale because I walk by whenever I am in the area.  I keep tabs.  Because Cromwell was important to me.  Cromwell was important to many of us.  Cromwell was a family.

Maybe you don’t get that?  As a sex worker I should hate every place I work, or the work itself, or fit some stereotype.  But actually – it’s a job.

Get that – IT’S. A. JOB.

Cromwell Manor was a workplace that held tremendous value for me as a queer sex worker and for many other sex workers.  Few truly diverse venues exist, although at Cromwell men and women, including trans women, worked together.  It was not only fun, but it was a haven of being free from both whorephobia & homophobia.  For me it was a safe space.

This is not to say that Cromwell didn’t have it’s problems.  Just like any workplace does.  When Cromwell closed unexpectedly in June 2012, due to issues the owner was facing at the time, workers were unable to access their belongings onsite.  On the advice of the Business Licensing Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria, & the Workplace Ombudsman (none of which would help us directly) we went to the police.

The police refused to to take a report.

Eventually SOME workers managed to negotiate to get SOME of their belongings out.

We reported to Consumer Affairs Victoria at the time our concerns that the business records, which included sex workers legal names & working names, might be either abandoned or disposed of inappropriately.

Fast forward back to 2013…

Have I heard about Cromwell?

Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

I feel ill.  I come from a background that includes periods of homelessness. I can’t believe that in the name of people who genuinely need help (those experiencing homelessness) RMIT University & STREAT, with “ethics approval”, have built a monument to WHOREPHOBIA in the building where some of my best sex worker memories occured.

Rosie Scott the curator is quoted as saying of Cromwell’s closure that it may have been due to “..police raid..for drugs or illegal workers or practice”.  Is that a quote designed to make the exhibition look edgy?  Or was that not even the point?  Was that just some throw away line of hatred against my community?

It makes me feel ill.  Literally ill.  If you read this, & I hope you read this, I hope you try to think about that.

In the article the curator is quoted as saying – “The office was in disarray, with papers and paraphernalia strewn everywhere, suggesting some kind of frantic search or abandon ship moment.’”

A sex worker who visited the Gallery on Friday night viewed Cromwell Manor business documents & worker files, easily accessible, as part of the art ‘installation’ that the space has become.  Victorian sex workers details open to staff, students & members of the public – not to mention the partying crowd there to gawk at the opening.

There is a quote from Rosie Scott the curator in the attached article saying “we have to reserve or remove judgments (if that is possible, it probably isn’t)”.

I do not reserve judgement.

THIS IS WHOREPHOBIA. THIS IS DISCRIMINATION.

What should you do to fix this?

Admit you need to fix this, but

– accept you must LISTEN to sex workers to know how to do so.

Cromwell001